Applying to study abroad during the spring semester in the 2020/21 academic year is still under way at the University. Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs, speaks about: how we organise international student mobility during the pandemic; what the most frequent questions asked by students are; and how they choose the mode of study during the COVID-19 pandemic.

andrushin hoshimin 2019

Each year, hundreds of students pursue the opportunity to study abroad. Last year, when the students were abroad, there was the Coronavirus outburst across the globe. Did they decide to continue their study abroad or return home?

The students who pursued studies in our university-partners were supposed to make a decision on an individual case-by-case basis, with regard to the situation in the country and international flight schedule. Many of them decided to stay abroad during the pandemic, while others returned to Russia to study by distance learning from home or halls of residence. Each case was individual. We processed all enquiries and provided help and guidance to both students and university-partners. At least, we tried to ensure comfort at a hard time in spring in 2020.

What was the mode of study for the international students at the University?

Both international and Russian students studied by distance learning. We used information technologies, which were actively developed at the University.

What are the most frequent cases when the international students in Russia or our students abroad need help?  

There were and still are cases when they need help or guidance. The learning environment is still undergoing changes. Our international students were primarily interested in how they could join online classes, what the lockdown guidance was, and how they could order delivery of food and basic necessities during self-isolation. Our volunteers and international student offices helped them in every way they could. There were a number of other questions as well including: when and how the coronavirus lockdown would end; and how they could return home. It all required a collaboration with the diplomatic representatives of other countries in the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, airlines, and even students’ parents.

Among the most frequent questions from our students abroad was how they could return home and what help and guidance we could provide. In most cases, we relied on our partners. They were quick to help to extend visas and provide material support and accommodation.

In most cases, international students were supposed to study mainly by distance learning. How did you organise it?

St Petersburg University offers a credit transfer scheme for more than 100 of our own and international online courses. Other courses were delivered using MS Teams, Zoom, and other platforms. Teaching staff and administrative staff offered recommendations on which mode of study to choose.

Most of the courses were delivered in distance mode. Lectures and seminars were online, while tutorials were postponed to when all restrictions would be eased. The University has always been committed to ensuring comfort to students and teaching staff. We were beyond normality. There is no evidence that all of the problems will be automatically solved and education will return to the pre-pandemic normal. The University is therefore seeking to ensure a comfort environment for teaching and learning by changing the schedule, postponing classes and so on. Each course and field of study is specific. So, we tried to take into consideration all suggestions from our teaching staff, administrative staff, and students.

What is the quality of distance learning according to what students think? Do they see any difference between offline and online learning?

We have obtained both positive and negative feedback. On the one hand, our students have more time to study and for self-preparation as they don’t have to commute. Those who skipped offline classes started to attend online classes. You can use additional materials in your computer when you study online.

On the other hand, distance learning doesn’t facilitate student-teacher communication. In some cases, they don’t have access to the necessary equipment and recourses. Another problem is a jet leg. Russian students from different time zones and international students are now working through the night or whole day to keep up with a timetable. Due to the time differences, scheduling a class for a convenient time is far from being possible. There is nothing that can be done about it. It is a global outbreak and we should act accordingly.

Application for academic mobility is open till 18 October 2020. If you are thinking of applying to study at the University, please go to the applications section of this site or refer to the International Academic Cooperation Department.

Is it possible for students to pursue studying abroad this academic year?

Yes, they are planning to pursue their studies abroad if the university-partner is accepting international students during the pandemic. It depends on the rules and guidance of the country where they have been adopted. According to the decree of the Russian Federation, students are allowed to leave the Russian Federation one time to pursue studying abroad. We inform our students about all possible risks arising from adopting new restrictions in the country where they are travelling to. As we are having a tough time, we do ask them to adequately evaluate the situation and make an informed decision concerning their study abroad.

This year, we have received fewer applications for student academic mobility than last year. Yet the students are still keen on going abroad. Denmark, Norway, Canada and China do not accept international students under the academic mobility programmes. Before the pandemic, most of the students chose China for their studies abroad.

We cannot accept students from the countries that have imposed travelling restrictions. The exception is the countries we have resumed flight with: the UK, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Kirgizia, Switzerland, and Tanzania. Yet the University doesn’t have many academic mobility students from these countries. Most of them come from Germany, Spain, Italy, China, and Poland. Thus, we are having few, if any, students during the pandemic.

Are there any enquires from the international students concerning when they will be able to return to Russia?

Of course, there are. We act in line with the decrees and guidance adopted by the Government of the Russian Federation and other authorities. Many of the students are willing to come to resume their studies here. We all want our airlines to start flying again and our academic mobility to be available. As a rule, we have over 1,000 incoming students every year. Now they would all like to return. We are going to resume our incoming and outcoming mobility as soon as we can.